U-M sees big-play ability from ‘explosive’ offense

NCAAF

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan loses quarterback J.J. McCarthy and seven other NFL draft picks from an offense that helped the team to a national championship in January, but was primarily known for the power run and ball control.

Despite the changes, new coordinator Kirk Campbell keeps coming back to a word to describe the 2024 Wolverines offense: Explosive. Campbell sees big-play ability throughout the unit, including with a mostly untested group of quarterbacks that will continue to compete to replace McCarthy during preseason camp.

“The blue-collar, physical offense, that’s not going to change, that’s going to be our identity, but the players are explosive,” Campbell told ESPN. “Any time those guys touch the football, that’s what their traits do. My job as a coordinator is to get them the football, because they’ll take care of that explosiveness. They’re playmakers.”

Michigan technically returns only one offensive starter in tight end Colston Loveland, a Mackey Award candidate who finished second on the team in receiving yards (649) in 2023 and told ESPN he’s targeting 1,000 receiving yards among his goals for the fall. Running back Donovan Edwards has delivered long runs in big games and will be complemented by Kalel Mullings.

Campbell likes the field-stretching potential of wide receivers like Semaj Morgan and Tyler Morris, and expects tight end Marlin Klein to have a big year behind Loveland.

“What [Campbell] said is pretty spot-on: This is an explosive offense,” said Edwards, who had two long touchdown runs in Michigan’s 2022 win over Ohio State and added two scoring runs of more than 40 yards against Washington in the national championship game. “Regardless if people think our offense is predominantly run-heavy, we have explosive guys all over the field.”

The question is who will deliver the ball. McCarthy accounted for 240 of the team’s 260 completions and 2,991 of the team’s 3,205 pass yards last season. Five players competed this spring, including Jack Tuttle, who in February received a seventh year of eligibility from the NCAA, and Alex Orji, who logged 15 carries for 86 yards as a changeup running quarterback last fall but did not attempt a pass.

Despite the lack of starting experience, Michigan coaches never seriously considered adding a quarterback from the transfer portal.

“We’ve got a lot of good players that are built right and molded right and have seen the process of how it’s done,” head coach Sherrone Moore said. “We all just felt we’d be in a good place.”

Campbell, who coached Michigan’s quarterbacks in 2023 and moved into the coordinator role when Moore was promoted, said Orji will be part of the offensive game plan no matter what, but the competition is very much open.

“There’s multiple power [conference] starters on our roster,” he said. “Which one’s the best, I need to find that out. Those guys make it harder for me because we’ve got really good players. Alex has just got to take it.”

Campbell isn’t going to rush the decision, noting that Michigan went into the 2022 season before settling on McCarthy over incumbent starter Cade McNamara. Orji, who completed his only pass attempt at Michigan in 2022, is hoping to show he can handle all elements of the position.

“Precision and accuracy within ball placement, being able to place it where I want to and not quite trying to aim it and knowing that there’s different levels of accuracy within every ball,” Orji said. “Sometimes you’re just going to let the receiver touch it. A big guy like Colston Loveland’s going to find a way to get the ball, and other times, it’s going to be tight windows, it’s going to be window-shopping in zone coverage and you’ve got to know exactly when to put it where to put it.

“Getting those reps is huge, because you can talk about it a ton and see it a ton, but in there, feeling it out and doing it is a different beast.”

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